Monday, November 28, 2005

Why Mongolia (3)

Double Toothpicks fleshes out what he thinks could be Bush's idea in making friends with Mongolia:
Look at the map again. Mongolia is just a KC135-tanker-load away from North Korea for any of our jets. If we make nice with the Mongols, we might gain a non-Japanese strategic basing option that could be used to keep Kim Jong Il in check. Thus, the President continues to place his chess pieces to cover the three key points on the Axis of Evil. The guy's no dummy.
I'm not part of the crowd that thinks that the reason Bush went there was to give an "emerging democracy" a pat on the back. Neither do I run with the folks that say that Bush went to Mongolia to make positive headlines in the face of "disaster" at home--you know, "wag the dog." And, for that matter, the idea that Mongolia is Bush's next stop on a path toward World Empire is good only for a laugh. As should be known by now, I'm with Double Toothpicks here: there are reasons for the US's cozying up to Mongolia that are for the US's own national interests.

And, by the way, the idea that Mongolia may figure in the US's thinking re: North Korea is not a new idea. Col. Wilhelm, America's man in Mongolia, said as much in Robert Kaplan's article in the Atlantic (original link here):
One might wonder why the United States would ever need an air base in Mongolia. In the 1990s Wilhelm wondered the same thing about Tajikistan. Then came September 11, 2001, and suddenly back-of-beyond Tajikistan, with its southern border facing Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, became a crucial staging area for American operations. "That's when I learned never to say 'never,'" he told me. With Mongolia's eastern border only 500 miles from North Korea, and with the strategic environment unpredictable and fast-changing, an air base here could be an important asset.
Whatever the reason, we think that America's increased involvement in Mongolia is a good thing for all involved--and perhaps for the North Korean people as well.

7 Comments:

Anonymous yan said...

Isn't that one main feature of foreign relations- that you never know what they may be good for one day?
I agree that Mongolia isn't that far away from North Korea or even Central Asia, but whenever you want to fly from or to Mongolia, you have to cross either Chinese or Russian airspace. So, in order for Mongolia to be of any use, China or Russia have to remain at least neutral.
I'm still with theory number two. Maybe encouraging Mongolia to follow its own path played a role too, more so since public attitudes are quite clearly in favor of the 'third' neighbour.

11/29/2005 9:57 AM  
Blogger nabetz said...

yan, when it comes to having a strategic alliance with Mongolia while at the same time facing the apparent problem of an uncooperative China or Russia with re: airspace, I think that the principle here, to express things proverbially, is that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. America will cross that bridge when it comes to it. In the mean time, it's building the road forward, even if it is the road less traveled.

I'm rather disposed to think that there's more of a chance than we might think that China or Russia would let us fly through on the way to a armed and dangerous North Korea. FWIW, China has recently began to take the hard line toward North Korea.

11/29/2005 10:51 AM  
Blogger yan said...

I agree that China or Russia allowing the US military to fly over their territory is still much more likely than any of the two letting the US use their bases, so Mongolia can have strategic value in certain scenarios. But I'm far from convinced such possibilities are enough to organize a state visit.
Such visits do, however, also send signals to other governments: give us a positive gesture, and we will return a favor - put your country on the map, or at least send some goodies. Maybe that was another point of the visit: Not only to generate positive headlines for George Bush, but also some for Mongolia.

11/30/2005 7:32 AM  
Blogger nabetz said...

yan, i apologize for being unclear and perhaps not qualifying my view. i wrote in the original post: "As should be known by now, I'm with Double Toothpicks here: there are reasons for the US's cozying up to Mongolia that are for the US's own national interests." I didn't mean to imply that the airbase angle is the SOLE reason that the US is friends with Mongolia. Obviously, there are several reasons:

1) Support for Mongolia's contribution to the War on Terror

2) Building friendship with a country, an alliance with whom would add considerably to the US's own regional and global positioning.

3) Support for Mongolia as a new and successful democracy in that part of the world

4) Giving Mongolia a shot in the arm by giving it good press and bringing it into the international spotlight.

But the two dominant ones (#1 and #2)--those without which Bush wouldn't have visited Mongolia in the first place--are strongly American interests. If it weren't for #1 and #2 on the following list, #3 and #4 would never have been sufficient to earn Mongolia a presidential visit. In other words, American self-interest (which may be and are shared by other countries) are the driver of American foreign policy. This is the case with just about every country everywhere (one notable exception is Europe, where countries are apparently giving up on their national interest for a greater Europe), so don't see why this should be a surprise to anyone.

Of course, there are also altrusitic motives that the US apparently has with re: democracy and freedom. But even then, if democracy and freedom abroad were sharply against American interests, I sincerely doubt that America would be quite so involved in promoting them in the world. Eventually, everything boils down to some kind of self-interests. There you are. I hope I'm clear this time.

11/30/2005 8:08 AM  
Blogger nabetz said...

BTW, the conversation continues here: http://newmongols.blogspot.com/2005/11/why-mongolia-4.html

11/30/2005 8:18 AM  
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